Cead Mile Failte
One Hundred Thousand Welcomes!!!
Who is St. Patrick, anyway??
It is said that St. Patrick could raise people from the dead, caused demons to die in the sea and carried a magic staff given to him by Christ in a vision.
There are so many conflicting stories about St. Patrick that he must have been at least two men, their stories becoming mingled over time, says the Rev. Howard V. Harper in Days and Customs of All Faiths. “Nevertheless,” he writes, “it must also be true that there was once in Ireland a commanding figure, so magnificent that all myths and legends gravitated toward him even though they were really about other men.”
St. Patrick might have been born March 17. Then again, he is thought to have died on a March 17. He was born in A.D. 373, 386, 387 or 389, and died in either 461 or 492. The one thing known for sure about St. Patrick is that he wasn’t born in Ireland.
Patrick, who was born in either Kilpatrick, Scotland, or Boulogne, France. He was enslaved by the Gaels at age 16, spending six years tending flocks in Ireland. He escaped, but chose to return to the place of his internment after he had a spiritual awakening. His dreams told him to bring Christianity to Ireland.
He devoted his entire life to that task, and he is credited with bringing the Christian Church to Ireland.
The massive partying that accompanies St. Patrick’s Day in this country is purely an American invention. In Ireland, the day is reserved for religious reflection, starting a three-day period of Christian devotion.
In 1737, the Charitable Irish Society of Boston is thought to have held the first secular celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
An Irish Blessing
May the Irish Hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the Luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the Blessing of Saint Patrick behold you.
History of Food in Ireland
The rich history of Ireland begins about 9,000 years ago. The early inhabitants were hunters and gathers. Their diet included wild pig, fish eel, birds, eggs, and herbs.
Sometime between 4,000 and 3,000 B.C. agriculture became the predominate way of life. Animals such as cattle, sheep, goat, and pig became domesticated and such crops as wheat, oat, rye, and barley became the staple crops and diet. Besides meat, the herded animals were used for milk, hide and to plow the fields. Butter was made from the milk. So were cheese curds and soured milk.
Corn was discovered as the settlers discovered how to use the method of stone crushing grain. With porridge, the Irish were able to incorporate nutritional value such as milk, butter, and eggs.
In the area of Dublin, the diet was more extensive, and included berries, orchard fruits, figs, raisins, and walnuts. After the Norman Invasion the Irish diet had doubled in nutrients. It grew to include fine foods such as milk butter, cheese, curds, bacon, sausage, sheep meat, corned beef, lamb, salmon, vegetables, porridge, honey, mead, wine, and ale.
In this time period, the method of brewing ale from barley was discovered. This became a main item of the diet.
Meat was an important part of the diet: Fresh and salted pork, beef, mutton, venison, and various varieties of game. Meat was usually only eaten on holy days- and was served with an inch or two of fat.
Honey became a valuable source of the diet. Bees were considered to be a sacred aspect of the culture. Oats, dairy, and salted meats dominated the Irish diet until the adoption of the potato in the 18th century.
In the 12th century, the rabbit was introduced into the diet by the Anglo- Norman. Wheat, peas, and beans also became strong staples of the diet. Anglo Norman cookery brought the induction of spices and preservation of food. The blending of British medieval cooking and traditional Gaelic-Irish food brought new recipes and cooking techniques to Ireland in approximately 1171. By the 14th Century, the cultures of these two cultures blended. By the 14th Century, the Black Death swept the countryside and pushed the Irish lifestyle into decline. The diet became poorer, and poorer. Around the end of the sixteenth century, the potato became the universal and staple food in the diet. Milk, meat, and oatmeal slowly became displaced in the Irish diet. Corn also became a main staple of the diet.
The Elizabethans and Jacobeans introduce the pheasant, turkey and the potato in the 16th and 17th century. Even though the diet varied throughout the country, the diet itself had become more sophisticated. Milk and dairy products had become essential and part of the religious life.
Social status had a lot to do with the diet. Foods of the peasants varied greatly from the diets of the wealthy. The 18th century started the era of refined cuisine.
The 19th century, the potato had become the staple of the diet. The overdependence of this item partially caused the devastation of the potato famine of the 1840’s. The Irish came to rely on the potato. They were stored over the winter to feed themselves, and livestock, especially the pigs. The potato provided carbohydrates, protein, and Vitamin C. The diet and economy was beginning to be based on the potato.
In 1845, a terrible bight was discovered eating the potato crops in Ireland. This blight wiped out nearly 90% of the potato crop. This caused a country wide spread of famine and disease. Ireland’s population decreased by half.
After the recovery from the famine, Ireland’s economy became very much commercialized. They learned how to not become overly dependent on a single food source, such as they had once done on the potato. The diet changed. The diet changed to include other such staples as tea, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, onions, and of course dairy products and eggs
Recovery after this event brought more commercialized production of goods and shopping in the market became more prevalent. Trading and bartering at the local market was the economical system of the time period.
The 20th century came about with the introduction of fruits. Tea became an unmistakable part of the Irish culture.
Though the Irish Diet is now more commercialized, the diet still remains somewhat traditional. Throughout the 1st half of the 20th century, food remained pretty much conservative. The wide spread famine forced the exploration of foods from the wild. By the 1960’s, the economy prospered, and allowed more ethnic diversity of the diet.
Today’s Irish diet is a blend of many Gaelic and British traditions. Food in Ireland symbolizes the togetherness of the people.
An Irish Food Chronology
7,000 B.C. Ireland inhabitant by hunter-gathers.
4,000-3,000 B.C. Agriculture development and introduction of domestic herds. Farming
2,000 B.C. (Bronze Age) Introduction of metal. It is used for making cooking pots.
800 B.C. (Iron Age) Emergence of hunting warrior aristocracy.
5th-7th centuries A.D. Introduction of Christianity and literacy to Ireland.
Cereals and dairy produce staples of Irish diet.
12th century A.D. Anglo Norman conquest of South and East Ireland. Increased
agriculture, introduction of built up ovens and use of spices in food.
13th century A.D. Growth of towns and overseas trade including importation of foodstuffs
16th and 17th centuries Tudor and Stuart conquests of Ireland.
Introduction of pheasant, turkey and potato.
Emergence of Anglo Irish upper class cuisine influenced by French
and Italian dishes.
18th century Era of the ‘Big House’. Refined cosmopolitan cuisine of gentry co-exists
with peasant diets of oats and diary produce in which potato is
becoming increasingly dominant.
1845 One third of potato crop lost. Great Famine begins.
1846-7 Two thirds of entire potato crop fails. Famine and disease hit poorer
1851 Census shows 1 million died and 2 million emigrated during Famine.
Late 19th century Rapid commercialization means availability of processed goods in rural
areas, especially tea, sugar, and white bread.
1914-18 War Tea and white bread staples in many households.
Early 20th century Restaurants or eating houses on the increase in urban areas.
Reluctance to eat traditional dishes seen as “famine foods”.
1960 Economic prosperity means package holiday and encounters with
1980s and 90s Irish supermarkets stock diversity of multicultural foods from
Mediterranean and the East.
Resurgence of traditional Irish products: seaweeds, shellfish and
- Allen, D (1995) The complete book of Irish country cooking. New York: Penguin Studio.
- Bayless, T. (1995, March 17). Just who was St. Patrick? St. Petersburg Times. 8
- Connery, C. (1995, May/June). Food before famine. Ireland of The Welcomes, 44 (3), 21-24.
- Reeves, J. (1995, September/ October). A farwell to famine. Ireland of The Welcomes, 44 (5), 30.
Originally Published 3-17-11
© 2011 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger All rights reserved
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